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How 'Keystone Habits' Can Make All the Difference

How 'Keystone Habits' Can Make All the Difference | THINKERS Notebook
Fellow thinker,

Back in December, I laid out three habits that I was planning to commit to in 2020 in an effort to become a better, more productive thinker.
 
  1. Wake up at 5:00 a.m. every day
  2. Start each day with a 10-minute planning session with a pen and my planner
  3. Schedule segments of focused work time and break time

These were essentially three habit seeds I wanted to plant in hopes that they would sprout into more consistent actions and better outcomes in the new year. I would just need to consistently add proper soil, water, and sunlight.

I also asked you to commit to three habits and, if you so chose, to share them with me or in the THINKERS Workshop

At a minimum, I hope that you wrote them down.

Did you?

Well, we're now more than three weeks into the new year. (Seriously, 2020 is already more than 6% complete. It happens fast.) That means it's time for a check-in, because it's easy to think about -- and even commit to -- a habit in December, but it's much more difficult and fraught to actually follow through with it in January and beyond. 

And remember why this is important: because thinking is a habit!

It has to be.

We live in a society powered by technology that is designed to distract us from thinking deeply. Ubiquitous advertising, incessant notifications, and the slot machine-like underpinnings of social media and social gaming provide a barrage of challenges that make it hard to hold our attention on subjects that actually matter.

All of this means that if we don't take control of our attention and make thinking a habit, and if we aren't conscious about cultivating that habit, then we are tacitly allowing the opposite habits to develop.

And going from one unintentional, mindless moment to the next is what leads us to go from one unintentional, mindless day to the next ... which will undoubtedly lead us down an unfulfilling path with a destination we're unlikely to be satisfied with.

Sorry to be so bleak there, but it's true. The stakes really are that are high.

That's why I'm taking my habits so seriously in 2020, and why I hope you are too.

So, like I said, it's check-in time. I'll go first.

How am I doing with my 2020 habits for becoming a better thinker? Pretty well so far, I'll say.

1. Waking up earlier

Outside of one Sunday morning when I allowed myself to sleep in, I've gotten up between 5:00-5:15 every day. And while it was hard initially, and led to less sleep those first couple of weeks, sure enough it has had the intended effect over time: I'm now going to bed earlier and actually sleeping more.

I track my Sleep Score on my FitBit, and over the last four weeks it's gone from 66 to 69 to 70 to 73. I obviously still have a ways to go, but the steady progress is obvious.

Plus I feel it too. I'm physically stronger, more emotionally consistent, and more alert mentally.

Focusing on one keystone habit (waking up earlier) is having a cascading impact on other habits (going to sleep earlier, not eating or drinking at night, watching less TV and reading more, etc.). More on this idea of keystone habits in a bit.

2. Starting each day with pen, paper, and a plan

I am happy to report that I have a 100% success rate with this habit! I'm even carving out time on the weekends to sit down with my planner, set intentions for the day or upcoming week, track my habits, and reflect on how I'm doing.

And I've actually come to believe that this habit is the most important of them all.

Having this daily accountability time with myself keeps me tethered to my goals. And seeing my progress makes me more motivated to make tomorrow even better than today, which was better than yesterday. It's powerful.

Again, a keystone habit.

3. Schedule focused work time and break time

I'm not doing quite as well with this goal.

Each day I set three target objectives that I want to complete, and I layout on my calendar when I want to work on them. But so far I've done only an adequate job of sticking to this daily schedule.

I'm ultimately getting everything done, but I know I could be more efficient with it, and in the process have more time for exercise and for the non-urgent but important work that can truly make meaningful long-term progress possible.

So I want to work on getting better at this third habit, while maintaining and even building upon my progress with the first two habits.

What have I learned about building better thinking habits during these first few weeks of 2020?

 
  • That keystone habits (a term originally coined by Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit) can have a remarkable cascading impact on helping you develop multiple good habits at once.
  • That spending time writing with pen and paper can have a profound impact on underlying beliefs and motivations.
  • And that becoming a better thinker isn't just going to happen by accident in today's and age; but you can make steady progress by being intentional and building better habits.

Don't just take my word for it though.

Below you will find three links that show some of the theory and science behind each of these lessons that I've learned (or been reminded of) through my own experience these past few weeks.

Before I go, I want to ask: do you want to share the progress you've made with your habits and goals for the new year?

If so, then visit us at the THINKERS Workshop

We're here to help you build better thinking habits.


Okay, now onto this week's links ...
 

How a single habit can create an outsized impact.
 
There are certain habits and routines that make success easier, regardless of the circumstances you face.

In fact, you may already practice some of these habits, even though you are unaware of it right now.

But most importantly, if you understand how to harness these habits, then you can drastically improve your health, your work, and your relationships … and start living the life you deserve.

Read: Keystone Habits: The Simple Way to Improve All Aspects of Your Life (James Clear)
 

This specific type of journaling can help you access, and change, underlying beliefs.
 
Journaling is so popular that most of us take for granted the reasons why we do it. While these reasons will vary from person to person, there are two qualities of journaling that are particularly important to the practice described in this article.

1. You open up to a broader perspective. When you sit down and write about your experiences and feelings, you choose to dedicate a special time window to reflecting on your own life. By putting your emotions and thoughts on paper, you gain some momentum in the process of working through them. They stop being absolute, and you feel less overwhelmed. You imply that they do not reflect the whole of reality, as it may often feel when you’re deep into them. You become, in a sense, an observer of your own thinking.

2. You can change your views. You get more perspective on your thinking because you force yourself to slow it down. By acting as an observer of yourself, you have a chance to reorganize your thinking, spot patterns in it, and choose to change your mind with the fresh information you discover.

Read: Cognitive Journaling: A Systematic Method to Overcome Negative Beliefs (Better Humans)
 

Thinking is a skill that can be developed through intentional practice. 

Just as with any skill, some of us are better at thinking than others. Why?

We're seduced into believing that brilliant thinkers are born that way. We think they magically produce brilliant ideas.

Nothing could be further from the truth. While there are likely genetic exceptions, the vast majority of the people we consider brilliant use their minds differently.

Often, these geniuses practice learnable habits of thinking that allow them to see the world differently.

Read: 5 ways to become a better thinker​ (Shane Parrish for The Week)
 

Quote of the week

“Change might not be fast and it isn't always easy. But with time and effort, almost any habit can be reshaped.”

-- 
Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit
 
Jerod Morris
Chief Creative Thinker
THINKERS Notebook

Why Regular Exercise Leads to Better Thinking

Why Regular Exercise Leads to Better Thinking | THINKERS Notebook
Hello fellow thinker,

Last week's edition of the THINKERS Roundup featured three links with essential techniques and strategies for maintaining the health of your brain.

Turns out, brain health can have a significant impact on your ability to think clearly, consistently, and coherently.

Who knew? ;-)

In response to that edition of the newsletter, I received the following reply from the person who has taught me more about how to think than anyone else (identity revealed at the end of this email):

 
You didn’t mention exercise. [My boss] gets worried when I go for a walk because I am going to come back with new ideas or a new plan of action. 

He's absolutely right.

How many times have you had an important revelation when you're away from your desk or away from your work and putting your body in motion? It happens to all of us.

When our conscious mind is removed from the stress of solving a problem in the moment, the voice of our subconscious becomes audible. And it's amazing what Eureka! moments can happen when we're open to the ideas of our subconscious. 

But there is so much more happening.

As this Harvard Health Publishing article explains, getting regular exercise actually improves the function of your brain. Your memory improves, your thinking skills sharpen. 

And as this Cleveland Clinic piece details, exercise helps you preserve cognitive skills and lower the risk of dementia.

Remember these scientific truisms the next time you think you can't afford to carve out some time to exercise.

The reality is: how can you afford not to?

Avoiding or deprioritizing exercise is a short-term decision that can prevent you from experiencing the clear and indisputable long-term, compounding impact of regular exercise.

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go hop on the elliptical before resuming my workday!

In the meantime, here are three additional links to help reinforce the foundational importance of exercise in helping you maintain and improve your ability to think -- no matter what stage of life you are in.

 

Exercising actually leads to the creation of new brain cells.
 
Another explanation for why working up a sweat enhances our mental capacity is that the hippocampus, a part of the brain critical for learning and memory, is highly active during exercise. When the neurons in this structure rev up, research shows that our cognitive function improves.

For instance, studies in mice have revealed that running enhances spatial learning. Other recent work indicates that aerobic exercise can actually reverse hippocampal shrinkage, which occurs naturally with age, and consequently boost memory in older adults. Yet another study found that students who exercise perform better on tests than their less athletic peers.

Read: Why Do I Think Better After I Exercise? (Scientific American)
 

There is a difference between leisure exercise and simply burning calories at work.
 
In two studies we found that regular physical activity seems to be beneficial for consumer decision making.

Individuals who were physically active – especially in their leisure time, managed to ignore the irrelevant information and judged the products only based on the information that was useful and informative. Their product judgments in the control condition and dilution condition did not differ significantly from each other. Participants who were not exercising regularly on the other hand showed the classic dilution effect.

Interestingly, we didn’t find the same results for people with a job that requires regular physical activity. The ‘active at work group’ also diluted their product judgments when facing irrelevant information. The motivational component of leisure activity seems to be important for the beneficial effects of physical activity. Like in previous research, an ‘exercise mind-set’ seems to matter. 

Read: Does regular physical activity help us make better decisions? (LSE Department of Management)
 

The cognitive benefits of exercise are more expansive than you may assume.

Most people end a tough workout with a hot shower, but maybe we should be breaking out the colored pencils instead. A heart-pumping gym session can boost creativity for up to two hours afterwards.

Supercharge post-workout inspiration by exercising outdoors and interacting with nature. Next time you need a burst of creative thinking, hit the trails for a long walk or run to refresh the body and the brain at the same time.

Read: 13 Unexpected Benefits of Exercise (Greatist)
 

Quote of the week

"True enjoyment comes from activity of the mind and exercise of the body; the two are ever united."

-- 
Wilhelm Von Humboldt
 
Jerod Morris
Chief Creative Thinker
THINKERS Notebook

Photo by Curtis MacNewton on Unsplash

You can't think better without this

You can't think better without this | THINKERS Notebook
The purpose of this blog is to present you with ideas and resources each week that help you become a better thinker.

We've gone over ideas like why writing by hand improves your thinking, the importance of habits, and why processes like brainwriting can lead to better solutions.

But there is one thing that is absolutely fundamental to better thinking. In fact, it's the most fundamental element of all.

Better thinking is not even possible without it. In fact, taken to the extreme, no thinking at all is possible without it.

It's something that is easy to take for granted, but something that we all should be extra vigilant about ... especially as get older.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

Your brain. 

More specifically, your brain's health.

This week, let's take a step back from strategies for better thinking and get even more fundamental.

What can we do on a regular basis to build and maintain the health of our brains?

Here are three resources that you should definitely spend some time with.

 

The power of pen and paper
 
Writing by hand may also improve a person’s memory for new information. 

A 2017 study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that brain regions associated with learning are more active when people completed a task by hand, as opposed to on a keyboard.

The authors of that study say writing by hand may promote “deep encoding” of new information in ways that keyboard writing does not. And other researchers have argued that writing by hand promotes learning and cognitive development in ways keyboard writing can’t match.

Read: Bring Back Handwriting: It's Good for Your Brain (The Nuance)
 

Habits and exercises proven to improve brain health
 
When you're in your 40s or 50s, the accepted notion is that we're on the way to losing a step in the mental department. Sure … you can't find your car keys, and why did you just walk in that room anyway?

But don't give in to the popular cliches. Your brain is not only capable of improvement at midlife, I'd say it's job number one as we head into a new decade that promises to be wackier than the one we just left behind.

Read: Enhance Your Brain to Deal with the Next Decade (Further)
 

Do brain games actually work?

While these activities are mentally stimulating, their long-term benefits are still being debated. Some studies have found they may help delay dementia or slow its progression, while other research has found no connection.

The more convincing evidence is that brain games may help sharpen certain thinking skills that tend to wane with age, such as processing speed, planning skills, reaction time, decision making, and short-term memory, according to a study in the November 2016 International Psychogeriatrics.

Read: The thinking on brain games (Harvard Health)
 

Quote of the week

"The brain is highly structured, but it is also extremely flexible. It's not a blank slate, but it isn't written in stone, either."

-- Alison Gopnick
 
Jerod Morris
Chief Creative Thinker
THINKERS Notebook

Photo by Josh Riemer on Unsplash​